On Wednesday night, the Redskins-Bengals game was one of the matchups featured on NBC Sports Networks fine show Turning Point. The segment on the Redskins ran about 10 minutes and it was interesting even though there not much new that was uncovered.However, there was one comment that was pulled from one of the audio of one of the broadcast feeds that caught my ear. I cant quite identify who said itit may have been Solomon Wilcots, a former Bengal who was doing the color commentary for CBS or perhaps a member of the Cincinnati radio broadcast team, or maybe someone elsebut the words are very blunt.I like what Cincinnatis doing. You show no guts and dont go for it on fourth and one, you deserve it.Harsh, but you really cant argue with it. In each of the last two games, the Redskins have faced crucial fourth-down situations in the fourth quarter. Each time, Mike Shanahan has elected to kick. In St. Louis, it was a virtually impossible 62-yard field goal and against the Bengals it was a punt that ended up netting 24 yards. The Redskins lost both games due in no small part to the failure of the fourth-down calls.It is always easy to criticize a decision with hindsight when it doesnt work out. But going for it on fourth and one against the Bengals should have been an easy call. They were running the ball well. The Cincinnati defense had no idea what was coming at them next. They gave up a boatload of high draft picks to get their playmaking quarterback. The Redskins defense had made a couple of stops but looking at the game through the first three quarters the faith Shanahan placed in them was not warranted.The odd thing is that the Redskins had gone for it on fourth and one twice against the Saints in the opener and got a first down both times. In all, the Redskins are six for eight on fourth and one since Shanahan arrived in 2010.And it also should have been easy to decide to go for it on fourth and 16 against the Rams. Even though the odds of converting for a first down were slim, they were much better than the chances of Billy Cundiff (career long field goal of 56 yards in 2005) hitting a 62-yard field goal.In both cases, Shanahan went with his gut feeling and its hard to argue with the instincts of a coach with his track record. But given that they have been successful when being aggressive and that the whole discretion being the better part of valor thing hasnt worked out too well, he should perhaps take the path of being bold the next time a key fourth-down situation comes up.
Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.
The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:
Will the Redskins make a concerted effort to improve the backfield, or are we going to continue to try and find a quality starting RB with late picks or on the UDA wire?— John Tayman (@BangRadioHour) February 16, 2018
I'm sure Kelly is a nice guy and all, but...
When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.
Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.
I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.
I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.
I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.
From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.
It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.
Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?
In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.
The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.
A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.
But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.
So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.
In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.
Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, February 17, 25 days before NFL free agency starts.
The Redskin week that was
An offseason blueprint for the Redskins—Should the Redskins focus their free agency money on keeping their own? In addition to unrestricted free agents Zach Brown and Trent Murphy, they need to consider extensions for Brandon Scherff, Preston Smith, and Jamison Crowder. That could chew up a bunch of the approximately $31 million of cap space that they have. They may get some help on the market but most of their improvement should come from the draft and from within.
Redskins offseason will hit warp speed soon—With the exception of the Alex Smith trade, which actually hasn’t happened yet, there hasn’t been much going on with the Redskins. That is going to change soon, check out the post for the calendar and how the events matter for the Redskins.
No mixed messages from Alex Smith—In a radio interview, Alex Smith said that he was “jacked” to be a part of the Redskins. Now, the phrase often repeated here is that you shouldn’t listen to what they say, you should watch what they do. And the moment that he signs the reported four-year extension that he has negotiated with the team, a deal that likely would put him in Washington for the rest of his career, we will see his actions backing up his words. Then we will know.
What we know, and what we think, of the Su'a Cravens situation—This will be a true test of the acumen of the front office. It’s a very tricky situation. The Redskins have to decide if they want to keep Cravens. Should they decide to keep him, there will be a lot of smoothing over of ruffled feelings that would need to be done over and trust in Cravens would have to be restored. If they don’t want him around, they have to make it look like they are willing to go into the season with him in order to be able to trade him. Otherwise, teams may just wait for them to cut him and sign him as a free agent. Again, don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.
Tweet of the week
Right after the trade I was thinking that the #Redskins might hold on to Breeland. But with a contract with a $10 mm AAV likely coming his way, it seems doubtful. https://t.co/l7FXKth5pi pic.twitter.com/AoEZcSDb0k— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) February 12, 2018
Quarterback is not the only NFL position with rising salaries. The players teams hire to try to stop opposing QBs, cornerbacks, are getting expensive, too. Bashaud Breeland is a good cornerback, not a great one. His coverage skills are solid, he’s a good team player (if a bit of a hothead at times) and his work ethic is not questioned. For a fourth-round pick who everybody thought left Clemson a year too early, he has done well for himself But he hasn’t made a Pro Bowl and he hasn’t even come close enough to be considered a snub. Breeland has eight interceptions in four years in the league with a high of three in 2016.
The price tag for good at cornerback is likely to be in the vicinity of $10 million per season. And good for him if he gets it. But with the Redskins employing Josh Norman, who has cap hits in the range of $14.5 million-$16.9 million over the next three years, it would be difficult to fit him in. Truth be told, Breeland has probably been destined to leave as a free agent ever since Norman signed his contract in April of 2016.
—NFL Combine (3/1) 12
—NFL Draft (4/26) 68
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 204
In case you missed it
- Cousins reportedly ready to file grievance if Skins tag him
- No cap casualties for the Redskins?
- Another NFL superstar is courting Kirk Cousins